It's Tuesday morning, the last day of sunshine in England for a while, and my intention is to make the most of it. I'm organised for once. My last meeting is due to finish at two o'clock, and I made a beautiful watermelon salad yesterday with the picture and recipe ready to share on social media. It's a warm morning, I post a video of the green juice I just drank for breakfast and aimlessly scroll through Instagram.
A black square? Odd. I scroll on.
An advert for leggings I have no intention of buying.
A third black square.
What is going on? Who is posting this stuff?
#BlackoutTuesday? Hmmm, first I've heard of it.
A friend has shared the square on her page, I message .. "what's that all about?" I ask. "I'm not sure", she replies "I think it's to support black people and to show you're not racist".
Woah. Hang on, I'm not racist. Should I be sharing the picture of a black square too?
28 million squares have been shared across social media platforms at the last count.
This thought process is the very reason I've stayed quiet since Tuesday. It's the first year I've even heard about Blackout Tuesday, and whilst all my instincts were screaming 'post that black square on your feed to show you're not racist' .. what does that really prove? Does it tick a box? Does it make me feel better? Does it make you feel better? Does it appease someone who believes it's symbolically verifying I'm non-racist? Does it align my brand with all the others on my feed? Because - better to be safe than sorry - right?
It's too easy. It's inauthentic. And it just isn't me.
My next thought is to stay quiet. It's one day off the gram, and tomorrow I can go back to feeling comfortable, posting pictures of that salad recipe I've got saved. Except Wednesday comes and the silence is deafening. More black squares, but now with explanations and context. I'm listening. I'm learning.
The dm's begin "I have noticed that you have not said or done anything about what happened with George Floyd. I feel you continuing to post your usual content looks disgusting." I'm silent. I'm listening. I'm reflecting. Trying to shame people into posting about such a sensitive subject on social media is neither fair nor helpful. I have watched that same horrific video of George Floyd struggling to breathe.
"I think your silence shows a lack of respect. I suggest you consider saying something to show you care." Have you considered I might be taking time away to educate myself because I care? Ironically the vast majority of emails I received along these lines are from white people.
I can't deny my life is privileged because of the colour of my skin. Something that has never occurred to me before. I was raised in a middle-class Cheshire village, I went to a school where I can still remember the name of the only non-white boy in my year. Who am I to begin talking about subject matter from a perspective I simply cannot begin to understand?
I am not being wilfully ignorant. I am acknowledging when to speak and when to listen. Reflection takes time. Meanwhile there's tons of incredibly informative content, from people much better educated on this subject. In many instances, very sadly, living this experience first hand. Do I talk over them to voice my oh so important perspective, or do I respectfully stay silent and allow important information to shine?
It's in my nature to reach out to people judged by their skin, but for very different reasons. So, I've been reflecting this week on what can I do. How can I take this time to listen and learn, whilst simultaneously using my platform to share important information?
You see, I am not sat here in silence, far from it. Whilst you might not see it on my feed yet, I am engaging and listening and learning from people who do know better, so that I can confidently speak up going forwards.
I feel out of my comfort zone even asking for guidance, but that's okay too. We should all face fears, it's an important part of growth. Provided questions are asked with love, kindness and good intentions, I believe they will be received well.
James McLeod is the first person I reach out to. He has such a kind smile and happy demeanour, this is a guy I would feel privileged to connect with. He messages straight back, and within a couple of hours we're chatting on Skype. A three hour conversation later, I have learned so much, yet I still have so much more to learn.
Over this past week I've spoken with Iomikoe Johnson, James McLeod & Joanna Rose-Hazel, all of whom have graciously shared their skin journeys on my latest podcast series. Many very important lessons came from these conversations, but one in particular which stood out for me is that people of colour also have differing perspectives on what's happening in the world at the moment. And varying comfort levels around a very difficult subject.
I truly feel that those of us who have battled with visible skin conditions share a beautiful empathy and kindness. So, please don't judge someone for going quiet. Posting publicly without taking time to reflect is a really unnatural way to process deeply personal emotions.
Be kind. Always.